State backs off controversial science standards

Hundreds of people turned out in Santa Fe on Monday to oppose the state’s plans to enact science standards that left out facts on climate change and evolution. Now, the head of the Public Education Department (PED) says he has reconsidered those controversial changes. Related: Overflow crowd opposes state’s proposed science standards

Under PED’s original proposal, New Mexico would implement Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), which have been developed and recommended by scientists and educators. But the department planned to adopt those standards with some key changes, including to lessons on climate change, evolution and the Earth’s geological age. Public Education Department (PED) acting Secretary Christopher Ruszkowski didn’t attend that hearing, during which not one person gave public comment in support of the altered standards.

Overflow crowd opposes state’s proposed science standards

Hundreds of New Mexicans waited in Santa Fe outside the Jerry Apodaca Building on Monday morning. They were there to share their thoughts about the statewide science standards proposed by the Public Education Department’s (PED) acting Secretary Christopher Ruszkowski. Update: State backs off controversial science standards
Under the proposal, New Mexico would join about 20 other states around the country and implement Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), which have been developed and recommended by scientists and educators. But New Mexico plans to adopt those standards with some key changes involving lessons on climate change, evolution and the Earth’s geological age. People started arriving an hour-and-a-half before the start of the 9:00 a.m. hearing, and others didn’t leave until almost 2:00 p.m. Some New Mexicans stood in line for more than three hours, waiting for their names to be called so they could enter the building, stand before public officials in a small auditorium and speak for three minutes each.

Running Dry: Groundwater levels are dropping across the West, including in the East Mountains

Garrett Petrie and Teri Farley moved to New Mexico about ten years ago. They found a house on five acres in the East Mountains because they liked being “off the grid.” Moving from Tucson, they were both well-aware of the water issues in the region. “We asked a lot of questions,” Petrie said. “We kept hearing things like, the wells really vary out here and you can get a good one, you can get a bad one.”

They thought they had a good well when they bought the house.

Interstate Stream Commission resignations expose conflict with state’s water boss

This week, three members of the New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission (ISC) resigned, including Chairman Caleb Chandler, Jim Wilcox and longtime director, Jim Dunlap. In his resignation letter, Dunlap wrote that he was leaving the ISC with “great concern for lack of direction from the State Engineer and adherence to New Mexico State Statutes.”

Dunlap explained that decision to NM Political Report Thursday evening. “I felt like our state engineer was trying to take over and be totally in control of the ISC and wouldn’t let us do our job in the sense that the statutes call for,” Dunlap said. “He fires our director without any of us knowing why or anything—and she was working out quite well, I thought. But she didn’t take orders from him, and he didn’t like that, and he up and fired her.”

The commission consists of nine directors by the governor, including the director of the ISC and the state engineer, who serves as secretary.

Three Interstate Stream Commissioners resign this week

This week, three members of the New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission (ISC) resigned, including Chairman Caleb Chandler, Jim Wilcox and longtime board member, Jim Dunlap. Earlier this year, ISC Director Deborah Dixon also left. Her departure came shortly after a public disagreement with State Engineer Tom Blaine at an ISC meeting. Update: One of the ex-ISC members told NM Political Report why he quit. The ISC consists of nine commissioners appointed by the governor, including the director of the ISC and the State Engineer.

Still no solid plans for Gila River diversion, despite millions spent

With a big deadline bearing down in 2019, the New Mexico Central Arizona Project Entity, or CAP Entity, has yet to choose a plan or exact location for the Gila Diversion. That’s despite already spending more than $12 million of the state’s federal subsidy for the project. At the end of September, AECOM—the engineering firm hired to come up with designs for the CAP Entity to choose from—presented board members with possible design ideas based on the group’s cost and needs. The CAP Entity was then supposed to decide at its October 3 meeting on a plan. Instead, the group punted.

Zinke’s high-price flights, oil and gas news and upcoming public meetings

US. Department of the Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke is under investigation for his travel arrangements—again. Earlier this week, the department’s Office of the Inspector General opened an investigation into privately chartered flights the secretary took, costing taxpayers tens of thousands of dollars. This isn’t the first time Zinke has exercised (alleged) ethical lapses when it comes to air travel. #mc_embed_signup{background:#fff; clear:left; font:14px Helvetica,Arial,sans-serif; width:100%;}
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Judge: Zinke has to stop delaying methane rule

Wednesday, a U.S. district court judge in California slapped down the U.S. Department of the Interior’s attempts to roll back its own rule aimed at cutting the waste of natural gas, or methane, from wells and pipelines on federal and tribal lands. The Bureau of Land Management’s waste prevention rule limits routine flaring of natural gas from oil wells, calls for industry to modernize leak-detection technology and fix leaks that are found and prohibits venting natural gas directly into the atmosphere, except under certain circumstances. Flaring and venting are in some cases unavoidable, such as when new wells are being drilled or for safety purposes, and have been regulated since the late 1970s. With the new rule, BLM sought to tighten the waste of natural gas and also address greenhouse gas pollution. After Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke suspended the rule, conservation groups sued.

Healthy Workforce Ordinance fails in razor-thin vote

If voters needed a reason to bring their reading glasses and a snack to the polls on Tuesday, it was probably because of the 1,900-word Healthy Workforce Ordinance, which filled the back side of the ballot. As precincts reported results throughout the night, the results flip-flopped, but in the end, the initiative failed 50.39 percent to 49.61 percent. That was a margin of 718 votes out of over 91,000 cast. In short, the ordinance said employers in the City of Albuquerque would need to provide employees with paid sick time for their own or a family member’s illness, injury or medical care or for absences from work related to domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking. Attorney Pat Rogers, who represented the business coalition that sued to void the initiative, called Tuesday’s vote a “testament to the Albuquerque voter.”

“Voters actually read the ordinance and determined it was a very bad proposal for employees in particular, as well as employers,” he said.

State’s top water official gives legislators optimistic brief on water dispute with Texas

The Legislative Finance Committee held its September meeting at Spaceport America, surrounded by cattle ranches and seemingly endless expanses of mesquite. On Thursday afternoon, legislators were updated on an issue that doesn’t involve rockets or space travel—but is critically important to the state’s future: the Texas v. New Mexico lawsuit in the lower Rio Grande. In 2013, Texas sued New Mexico and Colorado in the U.S. Supreme Court, alleging that New Mexico was taking water that legally should flow to Texas under the terms of the 1938 Rio Grande Compact by allowing farmers to pump groundwater connected to the river. Were the Supreme Court to side with Texas, it could force some southern New Mexico chile, pecan and cotton farmers to stop pumping groundwater. Or, the state could even wind up paying Texas up to $1 billion in damages.